Unless you've been living on some remote island, without access to the Internet, sipping piña coladas – there is no way you've missed all the hype about gut health.
It seems every day somebody's coming out with a new colon cleanse, a gut health reboot, or a fancy new probiotic sure to solve your tummy troubles.
Unlike other health fads, the focus on gut health is here to stay!
This is because your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms that do everything from strengthening your immune system and creating your "happy" chemicals, to extracting energy from your food.
You have your gut microbiota to thank for so many aspects of your health (or lack of health), which is why it continues to be one of the hottest topics.
As the Director of NYU Human Microbiome Program, Dr. Martin J. Blaser put it, "It's reasonable to propose that the composition of the microbiome and its activities are involved in most, if not all, of the biological processes that constitute human health and disease."
So, let's get to know your gut microbiome a little better. Here are 14 surprising things you didn't know about your gut microbiome.
1. There are more than bacteria in your gut – Although your gut microbiome is mostly bacteria, there are also all sorts of other organisms in there.1 Archaea are an ancient organism that has no cell nucleus and often produce methane. They also have the distinct ability to live in extreme environments, including your acidic gut.
You'll also find plenty of yeast and other fungi hanging out in there, and possibly parasites too. But perhaps the most fascinating of all are bacteriophages, which are teeny tiny viruses that infect specific bacteria. Since these organisms specifically infect certain bacteria, the hope is that one day they may be used as a targeted 'antibiotic.'
2. Your genes are outnumbered – The genes found in your gut microbiome outnumber your human genes 150 to 1.2 When scientists discovered that human DNA was 99.9% the same, human to human, they were a little perplexed.
It seems the dynamic gut microbiome is potentially capable of contributing to these differences. Your gut microbiome can influence gene expression and biological functions, making humans wonderfully unique.
3. The gut is the epicenter of revolutionary science – Functional metagenomics goes beyond identifying what's in there and is working to find out what's actually going on inside your gut. Metatranscriptomic sequencing technology, which is what Viome uses to test microbiomes, is at the forefront of this gut revolution.3
When you join Viome and send in your own Gut Intelligence Test Kit, you're joining the largest community experiment in the history of humankind. Together we can unravel the most important aspect of human health, which interestingly enough, isn't human at all. When you join Viome, you are joining the mission to make chronic illness optional.
4. The microbiome has more biodiversity than a rainforest – When we imagine a vibrant ecosystem with many different species of plants and animals, we usually think of the Amazon rainforest. But the Amazon pales in comparison to your gut microbiota, which is far more diverse.4
5. You're just like your mother – Even though humans are 99.9% similar in their DNA, they very different when it comes to our gut microbiome.
While your gut microbiome will look very different compared to the person walking by you on the street, it will look most similar to your mother's gut, followed by your siblings.5
6. The "bad guys" that aren't all bad – We were too quick to label certain bacteria like E. coli "bad guys." Only to find out that we actually need them on some levels and in some locations within our gut. E. coli actually helps stimulate regeneration of the gut lining, making the digestive tract healthier.6 The underlying conclusion of gut microbiome research is that it's all about balance.
7. It's more like an organ – Scientists are hesitant to call the gut microbiome an organ because it consists of microbial species that are not of human origin. When you're imagining the gut microbiome, it helps to think of it as an organ because it plays critical roles throughout your body. It's a key player in your nervous system, immune system, and endocrine system – it's like a mega-organ!7
8. Your gut isn't the same one you were born with – In fact, you weren't born with much of a gut microbiome at all. Over the first seven years of your life, you developed your microbiome which was impacted by how you were born, where you lived, the food you ate, and much more.
These experiences built the foundation of your microbiome and influenced how your gut microbiota looks today. However, while your gut microbiota changes throughout your life, it does keep a sort of "microbial fingerprint."8
9. Your gut microbiome is like your second brain – The gut microbiome is called your second brain because it affects your mood, happiness, motivation, and even can contribute to suboptimal neurological performance later in life.9 Your microbes actually produce about 90% of serotonin or your "happiness neurotransmitter."
Along what's called the vagus nerve, the bacteria in your gut are in constant communication with your brain and influencing your behavior. While this might sound like microscopic aliens are taking over your mind, the good news is you have a lot of influence over them through what you eat.
10. Antibiotics create a warzone – Antibiotics are like a nuclear bomb for your microbiota and can quickly change its composition, potentially leading to dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microorganisms).10 This can have both short and long-term effects on your health since the microbiome is critical in many physiological processes, including regulation of metabolism and immunity.
The Viome labs can actually see if you've taken antibiotics within the last five years. This is because antibiotics cause sweeping changes to your microbial ecosystem.
11. Your gut is surprisingly resilient – Even though antibiotics aren't great for your gut microbiome if you must use them, you'll be happy to hear your microbes can be remarkably resilient. If you take good care of your gut by eating the right foods, which you will find through your Viome recommendations, you can boost the beneficial bacteria and work to restore balance.11
Your gut microbiome is pretty strong and can potentially bounce back from something as catastrophic as antibiotics – with a little help.
12. Can predict if you're overweight or lean – Looking at the composition of your gut microbiome, researchers can tell with 90% accuracy whether you're overweight or lean. This has fascinating implications because we know that the microbiome is essential to metabolism through harvesting and storing energy.12
Though the connection hasn't yet been made about whether or not certain microbes can actually make you fat, there is an interesting correlation between metabolic health and certain bacteria.
13. Harvests energy from food – How healthy your microbes are affects how well your body extracts energy and nutrients. A healthy gut is associated with a healthy metabolism.
So when it comes to losing weight, not only should you exercise regularly, but you should eat for these trillions of bacteria. To find your ideal diet, you can take the Viome Gut Intelligence Test Kit and receive your individual recommendations on what to eat to improve your gut microbiome.13
14. It's shrinking – As a whole, the Western world is losing diversity in their gut microbiome. Things like antibiotic use, spending all of our time indoors, and moving into the cities have contributed to this loss in biodiversity.14,15
This is concerning as we're only just beginning to understand how vital these microorganisms are. It could be that we're losing certain species we didn't know were critical.
Your gut microbiome is a fascinating and complex world which we are continually discovering new and amazing things!